It was a very successful 2-year-old selling season in 2013 for the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company. Records were set across the board at the Florida auction company's March, April and June sales of 2-year-olds in training. Gross sales hit $92.3 million, an increase of 34 percent from the previous year, and the average price of the 1,450 juveniles sold increased by 28 percent to $63,659.
So what could OBS possibly do for an encore in 2014?
–The March Selected Sale established new records for gross ($38,437,500), average ($188,419), and median ($135,000).
–The April Spring Sale set new records for gross ($57,169,000), average $73,957), and median ($45,000).
–The June Sale set new records for gross revenue ($22,760,300) and the number sold (920). With a catalogue that grew by 59 percent, the average price declined only slightly (from $32,847 to $31,093) and the median of $20,000 held steady with the previous record year.
All told, OBS sold 1,709 juveniles during its March, April and June Sales, with gross revenue soaring from last year's record $92.3 million to nearly $118.4 million, an increase of 28 percent. Average price climbed by 9 percent to $69,261 despite there being 259 more horses sold in 2014 than in the previous year.
Consignors bought back less than 20 percent of the 2,122 horses through the ring during the three sales.
“Our expectations coming in to this year were good, but we knew we had some strong years right behind us that made it difficult to make those jumps again,” said Tom Ventura, president of OBS. “To make significant moves forward on top of last year was very satisfying.”
This is not a short-term success story.
Established by a group of 10 Florida horsemen in 1974, OBS has grown steadily, even during the downturns of a cyclical industry. Five years ago, total revenue for its juvenile auctions (including a February 2-year-old sale that was dropped in 2011) was $49.7 million. It's increased every year since then, to $57.8 million in 2011, $68.9 million in 2012, $92.3 in 2013 and passing the $100-million-mark this year. While many other auctions of yearlings and 2-year-olds are shrinking in numbers as the size of the foal crop has declined, OBS has grown in that category, too.
“The June sale grew by over 400 horses,” said Ventura. “April would have grown
if we had more capacity. We're limited by the size of our stable area; 1,200 is the magic number and we can't accommodate more than that. Several years ago we added temporary stabling but it just wasn't ideal so we discontinued that.”
The growth and popularity of the March and April sales has made it tough for some consignors to place their horses where they'd like them. Ventura said he and his team have developed a formula to categorize horses into A, B, and C groups for the April sale, and not every horse entered got in. Most of those who didn't get into the April catalogue wound up in the June sale, which has brought prices as high as $500,000 the last two years and from which graduates like Grade 1 winner Goldencents and 2014 Triple Crown prospect Wildcat Red emerged.
“When last year's sale topper hit $525,000, consignors became more and more confident,” Ventura said. “When Steve Young, Mark Casse and Donato Lanni – guys who work the top sales – are here in June, that's to our benefit.”
Those buyers and the numbers they helped generate have helped erase the perception that the June market is a “last-ditch sale of leftovers,” said Ventura. “More and more consignors are targeting their horses to a sale on a time frame based on where the horses are in their development, and not on whether a sale is select or open. The start of the sale season is now March instead of February.
“But when you have horses like (Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner) I'll Have Another come out of the April sale for only $35,000, it certainly puts some attention on that sale. It's been an evolving process.”
Ventura said it is success on the racetrack that ultimately will make or break a sale.
“We've had tremendous success on the racetrack, and the sales have grown. We have a very significant corps of sellers here in our area and we try to give them a reason not to leave town to sell their horses. We are no longer a regional market, not even a national market. We have international buyers and very loyal supporters. I think we have established ourselves as a place to buy 2-year-olds and the consignors have the confidence that the buyers will be here, whether it's June, April or March.”
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